Writing Tuesday: Snowjam 2014

The weather. Normally a nice bland conversation starter, the weather has become a major factor where I live. In the past six weeks, the weather has produced record lows and two snow events. Not a problem for most people in America, but in the South, it’s become a huge problem. Schools have been closed, traffic has been snarled, and grocery stores have had their shelves emptied of all bread products. In Georgia, the first snow event caused a massive traffic situation that paralyzed the city of Atlanta. Some have called it “SnowJam,” others “Snowapalooza,” other the “Snowpocalypse.” During the traffic nightmare, one of the radio stations referred to one Georgia state road as the “seventh circle of hell” while one of the Georgia interstates was the eighth circle. I know this because I was in my car listening to the announcer stuck in the middle of the seventh circle with two of my children with me. For eleven hours and forty-five minutes, I trudged home from a place less than ten miles from my house. During this time, I primarily had to focus on the road and other cars around me, but occasionally, I had a minute to reflect on how this traffic jam paralleled to a writer’s life because while a writer is the person to sit down and put the words to a screen or paper, there are obstacles and people who can either hinder or aid with the writing life.

When I left their preschool with my two youngest in the backseat, we ventured towards another child’s school. Obstacle number one came when another person thought she was being nice by letting me know that the upcoming bridge was closed. While I later found out this was not the case, this was the first hindrance in some writer’s lives. A writer may turn back at the first hint of anything bad. Instead of facing rejection, he or she lets his or her work linger in the internal memory of her computer (remember George McFly in Back to the Future when Marty asks him about his writing and he says he doesn’t show it to anyone because he doesn’t know if he can risk that kind of rejection). Instead of fighting through the writer’s block, a writer simply decides not to finish the story. I’ve had times when both of these instances have happened to me. As a writer, I need to have others read my work: to tell me what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong, to help me learn about the craft of writing, and to help me notice craft issues I wouldn’t notice myself. As a writer, I’ve had those days when my characters are at a certain place and I know they need to get to point C from point A but it sure is difficult to figure out point B in the meantime.

So back to the snowjam. I turned around from a point slightly before the bridge and headed to plan B. Before I set out on plan B, I stopped at a local grocery store. My two youngest (Cupcake and Chunk) and I used the facilities; bought milk, bread and cinnamon sugar for French toast; and most importantly, topped off the fuel tank at the grocery’s gas station. This little stop reveals two more points in the writer’s life: distractions and foresight. The grocery store was a slight distraction, albeit a necessary one. There are distractions everywhere a writer turns. The Internet with all the fascinating blogs, websites, news sites, social media is a fun distraction. There are times I go places where I know I can’t get internet access in order to write. I am so thankful I topped off my gas tank, however. The foresight of planning ahead can help a writer; schedules can help a writer plan out what he or she hopes to accomplish in the day, week or month ahead. The same with a business plan.

After we left the gas station, I turned on the radio to find out about road conditions. A radio station (which since then has taken great pains to let everyone know how accurate they were in predicting this first snow event) broadcast the fact that the bridge was closed (it was not). Because of this I headed for the road later described as “the seventh circle of hell.” I exited the gas station and two hours later made it to the road that I was convinced was a good way to get home because it was three lanes and everyone knows that three lanes can handle more traffic than one. This brings me to the next analogy to a writer’s life: twists and turns in your plot. For the most part, I am a planner. I use a synopsis to create the main storyline and outline different events and scenes for each chapter. When I stick to this, I am a much better storyline. It’s when I think-oh, this would be a good way to introduce more conflict- and keep adding new plot details that I find myself in big trouble. Right now, I’m editing my completed first draft and have to delete a page and a half that I added that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the book but seemed like a good idea at the time.

For two and a half hours, we drove about a mile. Cupcake reminded me that a visit to a place with some restrooms might be in order. We pulled into a grocery store parking lot. I unstrapped both children from their carseats and trudge through the ice and snow to see the sign on the door announcing they were closed even though there were people coming in and out of the store. Worried that everywhere else on this road would also be closing as well as about the bladders of Cupcake and Chunk, I entered the doors and begged the manager if I could please use the bathroom. A woman exiting with her groceries prevailed on him as well and I ran to the bathroom with my kids before the manager could change his mind. To my surprise, the woman also prevailed on the manager to let her buy us some Lunchables. I am still grateful to this woman for the kindness in buying a total stranger and her kids food. As a writer, I am also grateful whenever anyone offers to critique my work and gives me honest feedback. Critique partners and readers do a tremendous service to writers in that they point out issues and problems that we may not see. Word repetition, POV changes, and out-of-place scenes are such issues.

We entered the car, not knowing that we would be in the car for another five hours and forty-five minutes. In the same manner, depending on the method of publication a writer pursues, a writer doesn’t know whether he or she will receive that special call right away, months away or years away.

As we neared home, there were cars stranded on the side of the road. There are writers who never finish a book.

Along the way I received a call from a friend who returned my call from when I realized I was not going to be able to pick up one of my children from school. This friend let me talk to her through one of the stuck in traffic moments when I didn’t move for close to an hour. Thanks to her and all the friends who listen to me talk about my characters, my plot and my book.

Then we arrived at the icy patch that continued all the way up the hill. I was ready to cry. Here we were so close to home yet so far away. My car got stuck in the left lane in an icy patch. Thank you so much to the men who were pushing everyone up the hill and who pushed my car out of that patch. Also thank you to all the writers who encourage me at conferences and writers’ meetings. That little push sometimes helps in those rough patches and help us the next time we sit at the keyboard.

Arriving in the church parking lot next to our subdivision, I saw my husband waving on the side of the road. I parked in a spot and turned off the car. We walked with our kids up the icy hill and made it inside our home. A rush of emotions flooded me as my snowjam experience had come to an end. Similarly writers know different emotions when they write the end at the end of a manuscript. They’ve written, edited and sent off their book, hoping to find an audience.

Even though a writer ultimately sits on a chair and writes by him or herself, he or she still experiences help and guidance along the way to the finished product. As a writer and Snowjam 2014 driver, I thank all the people who are helping me along the way.

What about you? Who are the people who help you pursue whatever dreams you have?

Writing Tuesday: So What Have I Done

What songs make you think about your life? There are so many types of music out there that hopefully a certain type of music appeals to you whether it’s alternative, rap, hip-hop, pop, jazz, classical, R&B, swing (Big Band), country, Broadway, folk, blues, Reggae, New Age and even more. There are also so many holiday songs to enjoy as well. Inevitably when I turn on the radio during the holiday season, I hear John Lennon’s “So This is Christmas” at least one time. One line in that song always made me think about my life. The second line in the song asks what a person has done (I think fair use allows me to say that the second line is “So What have you done”). A few years ago, I would hear that line and would regret that I hadn’t started writing. So finally I started writing.

I wrote a book and almost finished another when the pregnancy test came back positive. I thought it would be a cinch to write whenever the baby was sleeping or whenever my two older children helped out with the baby. Then I discovered I was having twins. I developed writer’s block and put writing on the back burner, but I still had ideas running through my head. When the twins started mother’s morning out, I decided my “maternity leave” was over and that this time, I would be serious about it. This time I sought out writers’ groups and attended conferences. I’ve sought out critique partners and received invaluable information from people who have cared enough to read my work and tell me what I’m doing wrong as well as told me if something made them smile.

Although I gave up on my first attempt citing writer’s block and life issues, I’m learning the meaning of perseverance. This year was not easy as I’ve been dealing with the loss of my father after my mother passed away eighteen months earlier. During one of our last talks, my father told me how proud he was that I discovered that I’m a writer. Even though I’m not published, I can finally look back whenever I hear the John Lennon song and say I am doing something that I love. I’ve finished my first book (my first after the “maternity break” because I’m not counting the book from before my “maternity break.”) and I’ve started my second and third books. I’ve joined three wonderful writing organizations whose members are encouraging and generous with their time.

So if you have a book in you and haven’t started writing, don’t even delay until tomorrow. Start today. If you’re a plotter, start your outline and your research. If you’re a pantser, start writing.

I’m very thankful that I have a family who is encouraging me in my endeavors. My wonderful hubby and my four kids help me in my quest to find time to write, find stories to write, and find time to attend conferences and meetings which will hopefully help me become a better writer. Telling others about your writing can also be a huge step to finishing the book that you have in you.

So thank you, John Lennon, for your question that is one of the reasons I finally spurred myself to take that first step to writing books. Has any song helped you realize something about yourself?

Writing Monday (hey, I’m a little behind): Books about writing

This past January, little introverted me braved the waters and went to her first ever Georgia Romance Writers meeting. I only wish I had known about this organization sooner. That very first meeting, a wonderful person pulled me aside and asked me if I knew about Deb Dixon’s book, Goals, Motivation, and Conflict. I shook my head no and wondered to what she was referring. That same day I drove home and ordered a copy of the book off of the website she recommended  (this alone told me the person who recommended it to me is definitely a person who knows about her craft because she saved me around a hundred dollars.)

I read the book and wondered about the line that said that finding goals, motivations and conflicts would become invasive and that writers look for goals, motivations and conflicts all the time.

Additionally, I had the honor of listening to Ms. Dixon present a major speech based on her book at this year’s Moonlight and Magnolias conference. In addition to reading her book, I now heard her information presented to me, yet another way of assimilating the information contained in the book.

If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. Ms. Dixon presents a new way of looking at characterization that I had never realized before I read it.

To my surprise, I discovered she was right. I do analyze other works to discover character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts. Last night, my wonderful hubby and I went to a retro screening of It’s a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Throughout the movie, I found myself thinking about George Bailey and how his goals and motivations were thwarted at every turn. I also found myself thinking about Mr. Potter’s goals, motivations and conflicts. I wondered for the first time if Mr. Potter knew exactly how much George Bailey meant to him. It can’t be very much fun to have your flunkies do your bidding all the time. George provided him with a challenge, a reason to get out of bed. Without George around, what was Mr. Potter going to do? How would he enjoy life with no conflict in it?

Needless to say, I love It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a marvelous movie and I find something new every time I watch it. This time in addition to the new analysis of it, I noticed that the crony that’s always in back of Mr. Potter is listed in the credits as his bodyguard. Hmm, that was telling. For the first time, I saw the guy in the scenes but thought he was the only friend Potter had, a fellow crony who delighted in suppressing the dreams and hopes of the citizens of Bedford Falls. Instead, the guy was his bodyguard.

But I digress. As a write-at-home mom, I am now searching out character’s goals, convicts and motivations. This book influenced not only my writing but also the way I approach movies and other books. What books relating to your career have influenced you?

Writing Mondays: Support, support, support

Writing is not a solitary experience. Unless you write something and stick it under your bed, there are at least two people involved in writing: a writer and a reader. So many times, there are even more people involved in the writing process.

When I first started writing, I thought writing was a solitary experience. I thought I would write a book, send it out to publishers and get a magical acceptance letter. For the most part, I thought a writer simply sat down at a computer or with a pen and paper or with a recorder and wrote words. (No, I do not wish to buy the Brooklyn Bridge from anyone.)

Over the past couple of years, though, I’ve learned that I was wrong. Although that may work for some people and may have been the way for writers in years’ past, I’ve discovered that writers need support.

They need the support of their family who will miss them while they go write the words, edit the words, edit some more, put the manuscript down for a bit, and then edit again. Writers need the support of other authors: to become their critique partners, beta readers, contest judges and so on. I am so thankful for the first person to ever read my work and how kind she was to a complete greenhorn who didn’t know the first thing about point of view. (I’m still learning the craft side, every single day).

I am very thankful (yeah, I’m running a little behind this year-I’m on  Thanksgiving when I should be writing out my Christmas cards and wrapping the gifts I haven’t bought yet) for writing groups. This year, I joined a local writer’s group and the experience has been wonderful for me. I’ve met new friends and discovered writers, some of whom have become my role models. I’m in absolute awe of several GRW members who are not only truly nice but truly gifted. Each meeting is a mini-pep rally which leaves me stoked to return to my work in progress and make it better as well as finish it.

So I’m learning that I cannot simply hole up in a little room and crank out a book. I could, but I’m learning that by reaching out and having others read my work and tell me that I need to work on POV, pacing, word repetition, characterization and more, that makes me a better writer (well at least, I’m hoping it’s making me a better writer).

So if there are any writers out there who want to write a book and haven’t, sit down and write it. Then have someone read it and give you feedback on how to make your work better. Support from your fellow writers will make you a better writer.

The gist of this is that support is necessary: support from family, support from friends, and support from other writers. When you reach out for it, you might be surprised at how well others respond to you.

What support has propelled you to become a better writer? If you don’t write, what about your hobbies? What support has propelled you to a greater love of your hobby?

Writing Tuesday: Write-at-home mom

Writing. It’s a job that can consume many of your waking thoughts as you sift through characters, research questions, plotting, and editing in the confines of your mind. For some writers, it’s a job that fortunately has yielded monetary renumeration. For others of us, we’re still waiting for the call that our book will be published (for those writers going the traditional publishing route). 

I’m in the latter category. I wrote my first book five years ago, then took a maternity leave when I found out I was pregnant with twins. My joke is that my maternity leave ended in August of 2012 when I returned to writing, making a serious effort to learn this amazing craft, more intricate than I ever imagined. I’ve joined a national group, dedicated to helping writers of my genre. I’ve joined a local group, also dedicated to helping writers learn their craft and ways to either go through the traditional publishing route or the self-publication indie route. I’ve written, rewritten and edited one complete manuscript and am now almost finished with my second. I’m trying to learn more about ways to improve my writing: tighter pacing, no head hopping, deeper POV, stronger GMCs. 

So far I haven’t earned a penny, but I’m loving every minute (well, almost every minute-it hurt to cut my best line out of my first book because the whole conversation and scene was deleted). So why this post, you might ask. You have a clear goal: to become a better writer who hopes to one day become published. You have a clear motivation: to get your book published. That leaves my conflict. With my oldest two kids, I was your typical stay-at-home mom. I went to every class outing possible, I kept the house clutter at a relative minimum and we spent weekends together as a family, especially if my wonderful hubby wasn’t at work. When Cupcake and Chunk entered dayschool, I made the decision that my maternity leave was over. Writing wasn’t something I could ignore. It’s an integral part of me that needs to be expressed. I love writing and it’s part of me. But that realization came at a price. I’m no longer able to go to every class outing. I’m telling people no, people who don’t always understand that since I’ve never received a paycheck for this that I need to commit time to this. I’m going to libraries on weekends to write because trying to write at my house is like pulling teeth with each of my four kids barging into my room/office to discuss a pressingly urgent topic (like the injustice of one of their siblings getting the last cookie when they wanted it). My oldest two had mommy at home for their first years. Cupcake and Chunk hug Mommy goodbye before she goes off to write. 

I’m hoping they all understand someday that I didn’t go out and party, but that I’m taking this write-at-home job of mine seriously and that I’m giving it my all. 

So what about you? If you’re a mom, do you work at an office or are you a stay-at-home mom? If you write, how do you balance writing with your personal life? I’d love to hear from you.

Writing Monday: Favorite Places to Write

ImageOne of my favorite TV shows of all time is Ellery Queen. This one season show aired in the mid-1970s and centered around a mystery writer who solved mysteries. (Yes, this preceded Murder, She Wrote.) Last night I was watching one of the episodes on my laptop that featured Ellery working furiously to finish a book before a deadline. He only had a couple of days to finish forty pages and he had hurt his finger which was wrapped up and unable to be used to write or type. (One other aside: the show is set in 1947 before word processors and computers.) With a busted finger, he hired a secretary, one Miss Margie Coopersmith with a “C,” to write down his dictation. At eleven thirty at night, Miss Coopersmith asked Ellery if he would like to continue writing at the automat. Ellery looked at her as if she were crazy. “Writing? At the automat? It’s too noisy.” He told her he wouldn’t be able to get any work done in the noisy confines of the automat, instead preferring the interior confines of his New York City apartment.

This morning I was writing at Panera Bread since my two youngest are still at home with me and my husband didn’t have to go to leave for work until noon. Being a write-at-home mom is great because I set my own hours and work as often as I can. One problem, however, is that my children think my office, which is in my bedroom, has a rotating door which can be opened whenever they want. As a result, I tend to write elsewhere if they are at home: libraries, restaurants, anywhere where I can sit and write in relative peace and quiet.

The good thing about writing at someplace other than my house is that it gives me a couple of minutes beforehand to think about my writing for the day: where I’m at in my outline, dialogue, setting, POV, and so on. The bad thing is that it eats up time as I travel to different places. 

The important thing is that I’m trying to work on consistency: writing almost every day, writing deliberately and writing for the character’s story to get onto the written page.

Where do you like to write? 

 

NaNoWriMo

Some people are lucky enough to know what they want to do from the moment they can talk about it. My son MJ has wanted to be an emergency room doctor for the past six years, and I look forward to finding out whether he ever completes that goal or changes his mind.

Some of us may have an idea of what we want to do but never take the first step. All my life I’ve been writing down snippets of poems or stories, even going as far as to enter a high school writing contest a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It wasn’t until I finally admitted to myself that writing was something I needed to do that I took the first step to writing a book.

I wrote the book and then got a little sidetracked when I found out I was pregnant. When I discovered I was pregnant, I had visions of typing during naps and rocking the baby while typing on my laptop. Then I discovered that I was pregnant with twins (hello Cupcake and Chunk). It’s too hard to rock twins and type at the same time. So I gave myself a maternity leave, but something happened. I thought about characters and realized writing is a part of my nature.

So when my maternity leave ended, I started writing a non-fiction book. Then I heard about NaNoWriMo less than a week before it started last year. I geared myself up and wrote 50,000 words. I completed a book and found writer’s groups. To my surprise, I had not written The Next Big Thing in Romance, but I discovered something more: I discovered that despite my book’s flaws (and it had many), I wanted to make it better. I wanted to improve my craft. Last year’s NaNoWriMo convinced me I could do it. Since then, I’ve spent time learning how to write: learning about dialogue, POV, word repetition, pacing. I’m still learning how to write, but I’m finding people and groups who are helping me. This year I entered NaNoWriMo with the conviction I could do it, especially with the help of those around me, including my daughter Kath who also won NaNoWriMo this year.

So this is my first blog on the journey about my trying to learn how to write as I weave the road I hope will lead to becoming a published author someday. I’d write more except I left my hero in a living room with his sister when he really wants to be at the heroine’s house instead. Happy writing or happy finding what you want to do and taking that first step to doing it.